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Danny L Harle’s Harlecore is a celebration of the club

On his debut record, the British electronic producer conjures an environment many of his listeners will have been pining after for eleven months.

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If Charli XCX’s “Vroom Vroom” is the sexiest electro-pop track about driving, Danny L Harle’s “Car Song”, a collaboration with MC Boing, is the most furious. “We are driving in a car/Playing music in a car” shouts an unnamed vocalist over horns and pounding synths. The track is only a minute and a half long, but with its relentlessness and breathless energy, it’s remarkably distinct. This fervour means it’s a surprise when the vocalist, briefly a cappella, stops halfway through a verse, unable to fit the intended lyrics into the rhythm the song dictates. “No, I can’t do that, because the ‘we fly’ has to come before if I wanna do it that way,” they say, shedding some light on the simple methodology that plays a part in all songwriting. The vocals may have stopped, and the song is about to end – but still a drum beat throbs on. 

Harlecore is the debut album from the British electronic producer Danny L Harle – but it is by no means an early collection of his music. Since 2013, Harle has earned his place in the UK avant-garde electronica scene via his association with the cult label and collective PC Music, founded by AG Cook, and his production work for artists including Charli XCX, Rina Sawayama and Caroline Polachek. The latter – formerly of the US synth-pop band Chairlift – featured on Harle’s glitchy 2016 single “Ashes of Love”. Harle, always one of PC Music’s poppier acts, has also had a taste of the mainstream: in that same year he collaborated with Carly Rae Jepsen for the high-octane track “Super Natural”, while 2017’s abrasive “Bom Bom”, featuring Australian rapper Tkay Maidza, quickly became an internet sensation.

On Harlecore, Harle conjures an environment many of his listeners will have been pining after for 11 months now: the club. The album has been in the works since before the pandemic, and was dreamed up as a celebration of the dance nights Harle has long held himself; now though, that evocation is more desired than ever. His instinct for snappy pop rhythms and heavily dance-able basslines remains, while some of the more idiosyncratic sonic textures with which he made his name are absent, lost to his brash club drive. (Notably, Harlecore will be released on 26 February on LA-based label Mad Decent, not on PC Music; with this move, Harle has left behind some of his earlier verve.) 

[See also: Emily Bootle on Katy Kirby's Cool Dry Place]

The club Harle leads us into is expectedly sweaty, bass-heavy, its music wildly different at every turn. It’s not simply that this is music for a club setting – although the euphoric peaks and troughs of “Do You Remember” would make it a perfect blissed-out 3am number – but that the album itself doubles as a mysterious “virtual club experience”, which will launch with the record and keep its doors open 24 hours a day. What’s more, the album plays with aliases: Harle himself appears as DJ Danny, while Polacheck steps in as DJ Ocean. The acclaimed Scottish producer and Warp signee Hudson Mohawke is DJ Mayhem, while Lil Data – the PC Music artist who uses live-coding and pattern programming software in their speedcore – brings the incessant energy as MC Boing. 

Each track also features an unnamed vocalist, evoking the cool anonymity of a DJ standing behind the decks in a dark underground venue, their form not quite recognisable in the haze. “I literally can’t stand the sound of my own singing voice,” Harle told Highsnobiety in 2018. The anonymity he gives to his vocalists here, then – a significant step away from the “feat.” of his previous singles – suggests a desire to embrace a collective sonic union where the end goal is simply to be carried away by the rush of the track (the glistening propulsion of “On a Mountain”, for example) and not to be too concerned with precisely who is singing on it.

The result is an immersive record on which Harle has given each of his collaborators a “floor” of the club: DJ Danny’s tracks are the true crowd-pleasers – “Take My Heart Away” is a pummelling dance-floor anthem that plays with all the tropes of typical club music (four-to-the-floor beats, gradual builds to delirious highs), yet each synth rhythm snags a little, as though it’s got one of its cogs stuck, and in doing so lifts the track free of any cliché or obviousness. DJ Mayhem's basement-friendly tracks such as “Interlocked” and “All Night” approach with a vengeance: all juddering rhythms and background growls. The remaining two MC Boing tracks are disappointingly similar to “Car Song”: “Piano Song”, which features a chopped-up vocal line and harpsichord-like synths, rings with much the same frenzy – simply with a change of subject matter. These tracks punctuate the record with blasts of high energy and little more.

The riches lie in DJ Ocean’s pauses for thought. “Ocean’s Theme” is a slow, ethereal lullaby, where the synths have the texture of lapping waves and the vocal line is trance-like. On “For So Long”, the vocalist – likely Polachek herself – acts as one part of a many-stranded thread of synths, all woven together in deep, sometimes unsettling harmony. There is no obvious beat to jump up and down to here. Together, Harle and Polachek find a freeing place where euphoria comes in the form you least expect it. It is here – where Harle is least obsessed with turning clichéd dance tropes on their heads – that Harlecore feels most true to the best club experiences: moments of unanticipated revelation. 

“Harlecore” is released on 26 February on Mad Decent 

[See also: Ellen Peirson-Hagger speaks to Julien Baker about faith and songwriting]

Ellen Peirson-Hagger is the New Statesman’s assistant culture editor.

Thant Myint-U: Myanmar's protests show "widespread hatred of past military rule”

The historian and former UN peacekeeper on why the military seized power and the prospects of a democratic path for the country.

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On 1 February the military seized power in Myanmar (also known as Burma) from the elected government of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the state councillor Aung San Suu Kyi. The coup came a decade after the military agreed to share power with civilian authorities following close to 50 years of military rule.
 
For weeks since, Myanmar has been roiled by protests calling for the military to cede power to the NLD. But the military shows few signs of softening its hard-line stance. Several protesters have been killed by security forces, and Aung Sang Suu Kyi faces spurious charges, including illegally importing walkie-talkies.
 
Thant Myint-U, the author of The Hidden History of Burma, is one of the most prominent international observers of Burmese politics. Thant Myint-U, the grandson of the former UN secretary-general U Thant, has been a vocal critic of the military in the international media since the coup. The New Statesman spoke to him about his analysis of the background to the coup, the developments since and the role of China in the crisis.

***
 
Few protests on this scale have been seen in Myanmar for years. Does this suggest the military has miscalculated the attachment to democracy formed over the past decade?
 
It’s important to understand recent history. A military junta took power in 1988, ending a quarter century of self-imposed isolation and “Burmese socialism” [the ideology of the Burma Socialist Programme Party, which fused Buddhism and socialism]. They also created a new market economy, one which enriched many generals as well as a new class of businesspeople. 
 
But in 2010, these generals retired, the junta was dissolved and a new political system was set up in its place, one in which a younger cohort of generals would share power with elected politicians.
 
These younger generals didn’t count on Aung San Suu Kyi’s party winning elections in 2015 yet accepted the results, leading to five years of unhappy cohabitation. When her party won again last November, they quickly latched on to allegations from the main pro-army party of massive electoral fraud. The investigation they demanded into these allegations was rejected by Aung San Suu Kyi, leading ultimately to the coup on 1 February.
 
The military wanted a reset, one in which elections could be run again, but only after they had changed the political landscape by placing Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest and possibly de-registering her party. They almost certainly did not expect the massive protests which followed the coup.
 
The protests show widespread hatred of past military rule. They also reflect the growth of a new middle class, who over these past ten years have enjoyed a degree of freedom and economic opportunity unknown in the country in over half a century. 
 
How have minorities, especially the Rohingyas, reacted to the coup? (The Rohingyas are a primarily Muslim ethnic minority in Myanmar who have been subjected to Burmese military violence that is widely considered genocidal since 2016.) 
 
There have been pro-democracy protests in nearly every part of the country, including in cities in mainly minority areas. In Rangoon, where there are sizeable minority communities, we’ve seen the protests cut across racial and religious lines. 
 
For the Rohingya who remain in internally displaced peoples’ camps and in villages near Bangladesh, having in charge an army that was responsible for large-scale violence against their community in 2016-17 may seem an ominous turn, but they had already been deprived of practically all their basic rights. 
 
Parts of Burma, especially the eastern uplands, are home to dozens of ethnic-minority armies and militias. Several have condemned the military takeover. Others have remained quiet or are in active ceasefire discussions with the new regime.
 
Many minority parties and organisations felt badly mistreated by the last government. At the same time, minority communities have borne the brunt of military brutality over the decades and have no desire to live under Burmese military rule. 

[See also: World Review Podcast - Will democracy be restored in Myanmar?]
 
The economy seems to be faltering since the coup. Might this weaken the military’s rule?
 
The economy was in deep crisis long before the coup. Burma is one of the poorest countries in Asia. The capitalist economy that has grown up over the past 30 years, based almost entirely on the export of unskilled labour and primary commodities, has produced extreme inequality. Then came the coronavirus pandemic, which saw a fall in remittances from migrant workers abroad – numbering 4 million in Thailand alone – as well as a severe downturn in economic activity in most sectors.
 
According to one survey, the percentage of people living below the absolute poverty line of just $1.9 a day had jumped from 16 per cent in January to 63 per cent in October. Over a third of respondents reported zero income for the past three months. Tens of millions of people were already facing ruin and an inability to feed themselves and their families. Now with the coup, the protests and resulting economic disruptions, it is impossible to imagine how the poor and working classes in Burma are going to be able to simply survive the weeks and months ahead.

How determined are protesters to bring down the military?
 
The protesters have shown extraordinary courage, organisational skill and determination. It’s been an incredible display of collective action that I hope one day, under a civilian government, will be harnessed towards creating a fairer and more equitable society as well. However, it is not clear how the country goes from this situation to anything that actually can end military rule.
 
The army had been in power for over half a century and had withstood equally massive uprisings as well as armed insurrections, foreign invasions and decades of the toughest international sanctions possible. It’s an army that won’t hesitate to use deadly force if it feels necessary.
 
Might proposed sanctions by the US and EU force a shift from the army, or is the army on the contrary benefiting from the less concerned reaction from China?
 
The Burmese military sees China as a strategic threat and as having supported several of the ethnic armed organisations it had been fighting these past years. At the same time, China had fairly good relations with Aung San Suu Kyi and hoped that a second term would bring closer economic ties. China will act pragmatically and in its own interest – but I’m not sure China knows yet exactly what that will be.
 
On Western sanctions, it is important to remember that the generals have few assets abroad. Burma is everything to them and all their friends and enemies are within the country. It is incredibly important that any sanctions are as targeted as possible and do nothing to worsen the plight of poor and vulnerable communities.
 
If anything, aid should be increased to protect people from the crisis. We have to be mindful of the real possibility of social collapse in Burma. The present political crisis comes at a time of already acute and rapidly escalating economic distress, in a country already facing multiple internal armed conflicts. If Burma implodes, the impact will be felt right across the region. 

[See also: How will democracy be defined after Myanmar's military coup?]

Ido Vock is international correspondent at the New Statesman.

Am I the only one scared of the return of fun?

Economists predict a new "Roaring Twenties" boom post-lockdown. But after the road-map announcement, I felt a trickle of fear between my ribs.

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My friend owns a restaurant that’s been closed for ages because of Covid. He’s currently getting a rent reduction from his kindly landlord, but the landlord says it’ll be ending soon because the Roaring Twenties are coming. 

The Roaring Twenties, economists claim, will be a boom period resulting from a huge injection of commerce, confidence and jollity once the lockdown is lifted. As with the first Roaring Twenties – the one with the flappers and the sailor suits – financial confidence and fun will be closely entwined. L’Oreal predicts a mighty uptick in make-up sales as people finally see other face to face. In the sepulchral West End of London right now, my restaurant-owning friend tells me, abandoned shops are being transformed into cake stores by Chinese investors because Chinese cream cakes are one area of future growth. By June you won’t be able to move for the heavily made-up people eating cake in the streets, but I can’t be the only person who felt a trickle of fear between their ribs on 22 February when Boris Johnson announced that we’re all going to be having a very, very good summer.  

I don’t want lockdown to continue for another minute, but I do have problems facing the thought of mass enjoyment. That it will likely coincide with hot weather makes it worse. I always felt alienated on those warm nights when everyone was driving around in cars with the windows down, and excited at winter because no one expected you to have any fun. I’m not being contrarian or curmudgeonly; I love fun – I just don’t like being told to have it along with millions of other people. Who knows what adolescent recesses of our minds the pandemic has pulled us back to, but for some reason, seeing the Metro’s front page with the headline Midsummer’s Dream, I was back at school as GCSE exams approached, crouched in the library, watching the cool kids revise outside, wondering how they could concentrate on their work in the glare of the sun and hoping the grass was itching their bums uncomfortably. The giant nationwide party night on 21 June, when clubs may be able to open again, is already shaping up in my mind to feel like the worst kind of New Year’s Eve.

[See also: Philip Collins on the beauty of isolation]

I felt obliged to see whether there was any science behind these unpleasant feelings, and of course, there was. Cherophobia – from the Greek chero, to rejoice – is a fear of fun, and is more commonly found among those of the neurotic and introverted stripe. There are complex forces at play behind grumpiness and the impulse to avoid situations of mass enjoyment. Cherophobics feel, consciously or otherwise, that happiness leads to adverse consequences. Disasters follow good fortune; happy people have further to fall. When you are happy, something will hit you out of the blue; if you feel good, you let your guard down. Cherophobia is associated with insecure attachment patterns. And nothing makes you more insecurely attached than staying in your house for a year not seeing anyone. 

The real worry is that when all this is over, you won’t feel any better – and you’ll realise that it wasn’t lockdown, it was you. In the past few months, we’ve managed our moods with scientific precision, watching them shift from wasp-trapped-in-a-jar claustrophobia, to wobbly, to fine, and back again, dissecting our feelings with friends over WhatsApp voice notes. The long-term effects of the pandemic will linger far into the future, in ways we can’t imagine, but there’ll be little space to talk about it then.  

I had my first baby at the start of the pandemic; she was five weeks old when lockdown began. I have no idea whether the habit I developed of stumbling around parks with a pushchair muttering to myself was the result of lockdown, or my own struggles as a new mother – but every time it got really difficult I told myself it was the former. There is emotional freedom in having some parts of your everyday freedom removed – endless excuses not to make plans, not to face them falling apart, try something new. The end of lockdown is a process of facing ourselves. When the restrictions are gone, you’ll have to take responsibility for how your life really feels.  

[See also: Pippa Bailey on lockdown, introversion and exhaustion]

Kate Mossman is a senior writer at the New Statesman

A new BBC Radio 4 series seeks to take “a fresh look” at Thomas Hardy’s novels through the eyes of his women

In this three-part adaptation of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Tess relates her own story in a series of first-person monologues.

 

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A new BBC Radio 4 series of adaptations, Hardy’s Women (28 February, 3pm), seeks to take “a fresh look at some of the novels of Thomas Hardy through the eyes of his female protagonists”, which seems an odd ambition in reappraising his work. Can Hardy’s novels really be considered lacking in the female perspective – particularly the novel that comes first in this series, Tess of the D’Urbervilles? Though Hardy’s ­foreboding, God-like narration often seems aware of things that Tess is not, much of the novel’s lasting power lies in its depictions of Tess’s anger, despair, self-loathing and resignation.

In this three-part adaptation, Tess (Faye Marsay) relates her own story in a series of first-person monologues that bookend and regularly interrupt the drama. Each episode begins and ends with an imprisoned Tess ominously wondering how she ended up in a small, dark cell awaiting her own death. She muses on her fate, casting back to narrate the events of her life, searching for the moments that set her on her tragic course.

[see also: Matthew Syed’s Sideways takes a second look at Stockholm Syndrome]

Katie Him’s script streamlines the story, and makes the language accessible, without fully modernising it. The adaptation has a compelling lightness and immediacy: qualities essential for a good radio abridgement of a hefty Victorian novel, especially in the Sunday afternoon slot. But Tess’s impassioned addresses can serve to dial up the theatrics of what is already a fairly melodramatic novel. (The similarities in accents and sound design also make them at times unfortunately reminiscent of The Archers’ controversial 2020 Ambridge monologues.)

The radio drama works best when ­translating the book’s liveliest scenes: the May dance that opens the novel; the sequences featuring a gaggle of milkmaids lusting after Angel Clare with a feverish intensity, pushing each other out of the way to stare at him through a window, or kissing his shadow; the flooding of a path that ­Angel carries Tess across.

Later instalments in the series will turn to slightly less familiar works from Hardy’s canon including The Woodlanders, The Hand of Ethelberta and Two on a Tower. In these novels, a perspective shift might offer more valuable insights.

Hardy’s Women: Tess of the D’Urbervilles 
BBC Radio 4

[see also: Who Cares: BBC Radio Four’s moving verbatim drama about young carers]

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 24 February 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Britain unlocks

BBC One’s Bloodlands is Line of Duty with added politics

This new series produced by Jed Mercurio is exciting, and its plot is intricately tangled. 

 

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Forget, for a moment, the Irish Sea border, and all the troubles it has brought us. Let us consider instead the fact that it is now the law that in every TV crime drama there must be a scene in which our half-cut cop hero goes to sleep fully dressed on a sofa, only to be rudely awoken the next morning by a call informing him something Very Bad Indeed has happened. The voice at the end of the line, which we can only half hear, will then insist he must be at the scene of the crime, like, yesterday. “OK, I’ll be there in an hour,” he’ll reply, his furrowed brow inducing in the audience sudden hunger with its powerful resemblance to a beef flavour ridge-cut crisp. Cut to our hero dashing from the house without stopping even to squirt some Lynx Africa in the forgotten cave of his armpit.

When all of these things happened – tick, tick, tick and… yes, tick – in the first minutes of Bloodlands (21 February, 9pm) a drama set in Belfast and County Down and starring James Nesbitt, I wondered if I should stick with it. I’m happy I did, though. Chris Brandon, its writer, is a long way from winning the war against cliché; the wait goes on for a non-sardonic female sidekick who doesn’t trust her senior partner implicitly, in spite of strong evidence that he could not be more of a liability if he had a sign above his head that read “LIABILITY”. But its executive producer is Jed Mercurio, the writer of Line of Duty. One episode in, and I’d describe it as Line of Duty with added politics. It’s very exciting, and its plot is intricately tangled.

When DCI Tom Brannick (Nesbitt) arrives at his destination – well within the promised hour – an SUV is being hoisted from Strangford Lough. The car belongs to a former IRA man; the police have received a call, which used a paramilitary code, informing them of the kidnap of its owner. Inside the car is a postcard of the Harland & Wolff gantry cranes in Belfast, one of which is famously nicknamed Goliath – an image whose significance is apparent only to Brannick. Goliath was the name of an investigation that was stymied by the coming of peace in Northern Ireland in 1998 (no one wanted to put the ceasefire at risk by pursuing the case). Back then, there were other, possibly sectarian, kidnappings – the work, it was believed, of a police insider. The bodies of the four ­disappeared were never found. One of them was Brannick’s wife, who worked in ­military intelligence.

[see also: ITV’s true crime drama The Pembrokeshire Murders is a story of meticulousness and hard work]

Let’s put aside the fact it seems unlikely Brannick would be permitted to reopen the Goliath case – even if other more powerful forces are also trying to close him down – given that the mother of his child was one of the victims. It’s hard to believe, too, that his partner, DS Niamh McGovern (Charlene McKenna), could have been hitherto unaware of his loss. You soon stop worrying about such implausibilities, just as you stop worrying about the fact that (in my case) Nesbitt is one of your least favourite actors (if he’s always the same, whatever part he’s playing, it hardly matters here).

It’s all so complicated and thrilling. The show’s deployment of painful recent history is elegantly done, and I love the dialogue which, mournful though it is, has a habit of suddenly breaking into black humour. “We’re halfway to the Galapagos,” said Brannick’s boss, DCS Jackie Twomey (Lorcan Cranitch), on finding himself on a tiny, sodden, windswept island in the middle of the lough.

And what of this Twomey? It seems so blindingly obvious he’s a bad lot that I’m assuming he’s really an angel in disguise. But who knows? All I will say is that Cranitch’s performance is something else: so classy, so controlled. He could not be better cast, his face screwed in frustration like some ­rusted bolt, his doleful eyes darting like ­sticklebacks. When he lifts the receiver of the phone on his desk and announces his name to some factotum, a weirdly retro sense of pleasure creeps over me. This is proper, old-school acting: a man of the theatre quietly showing everyone else how it’s done.

Bloodlands 
BBC One

[see also: BBC One’s Imagine… We’ll Be Back? explores the state of the arts in the pandemic]

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article appears in the 24 February 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Britain unlocks

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